Sunday, December 27, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Creed (2015)

Children of the '70s can be forgiven if there's an unexpected sense of deja vu when going to the movies this month, with brand-new STAR WARS and ROCKY films simultaneously playing in theaters.

Happily both THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) and CREED (2015), the newest entries in each franchise, are each worthy successors to the original series. Both films manage to simultaneously be fresh and familiar, with stories blending beloved actors from decades past with talented younger actors.

I've only seen the first three ROCKY films, but CREED, the sixth ROCKY film, flows from them seamlessly; Sylvester Stallone is utterly convincing as Rocky Balboa, nearly four decades on from his first bout with Apollo Creed.

Adonis "Donnie" Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) is the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers, seen in stills and fight footage). Born after Apollo's death and abandoned by his mother, he's eventually located in a juvenile hall by Apollo's widow, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), and raised as her son.

As a young man Donnie has a good job in the financial industry but dreams of being a fighter. Donnie ignores his adoptive mother's warnings about the possibility of being killed boxing, as his father was; he quits his job and goes to Philadelphia, intent on persuading his father's competitor and friend, the legendary Rocky Balboa (Stallone), to train him. The aging Rocky owns an Italian restaurant and initially has no interest in becoming involved with boxing again.

Within the familiar structure of a ROCKY movie, building to a climactic fight, Donnie works through his feelings of abandonment and the pressure to live up to his father's reputation, while also romancing a hearing-impaired singer named Bianca (Tessa Thompson). And Rocky, who is missing his late wife Adrian and feeling his best days are behind him, once more feels a sense of purpose and family thanks to the young man who calls him "Unc."

CREED is a well-written film with excellent performances. Though initially dubious when I heard there was yet another ROCKY movie, CREED is a film with new things to say which deserved to be made.

The movie acknowledges Rocky -- and Apollo's -- past in countless ways, yet the story isn't mired there; much of the focus is on the younger generation and their future. Yet while the film's bracing attitude treats the past matter-of-factly and keeps things from feeling overly nostalgic, the movie's single most powerful moment is the perfectly placed use of the original ROCKY theme music, saved for a single moment near the end. Particularly for anyone who saw ROCKY when it first came out, it's a spine-tingling and justifiably tear-inducing moment.

All of the actors, including including some real fighters, are well cast and authentic. Jordan is appealing as Rocky's protege, with Rashad terrific as his feisty adoptive mom.

Stallone, however, towers over all in his return to the role that made him a star. How often is it we get to see an actor play a character over a span of nearly 40 years? (Well, other than in STAR WARS!) He's already been nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actor, and an Oscar nomination would also be well deserved.

CREED was directed by Ryan Coogler from a screenplay by Coogler and Aaron Covington. It was filmed by Maryse Alberti. It runs two hours and 13 minutes.

Parental Advisory: CREED is rated PG-13 for violence, language, and brief sensuality.

The trailer is at IMDb.

For more on this film, please visit the positive reviews by Leonard Maltin and Kenneth Turan which encouraged me to try the movie. It's well worth seeing.


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